Arnon Grunberg
Words Without Borders

Guantánamo Bay

This summer, I visited the Dutch troops in Afghanistan and somehow my appetite for war zones was sharpened by this visit. I don’t mean this cynically, although I admit that this remark might sound all too lighthearted given the nature of a war zone. But I’m sincere about this.
For my personal well-being and for my future as an author, the Afghanistan trip was much more than simply refreshing.
When I heard that journalists are admitted to Guantánamo Bay, I applied.
As with a blind date, my hopes were low. But after a few official letters, and I assume a few background checks, the U.S. military informed my assistant that I would be welcome to visit Guantánamo Bay at the end of this month.
One small surprise even before my trip: the U.S. military at Guantánamo Bay sprinkles its e-mails with quotations from the Bible.
I don’t pass judgment on this habit. It’s just that I can't imagine the Dutch or the German army sending me an e-mail with something below the text like, “Kill, or sin will kill you.” This spring, I hope to visit the Israeli army, also. After my first few contacts with the Israeli embassy in the Netherlands, my feeling is that I’m going to miss out on Bible quotations from Israeli soldiers.
Let me share with you another quotation sent to my assistant by the US military: ‘'And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."
Romans 8:28 In the past, I have written about Guantánamo Bay, and also about the minor differences between the US and Europe. This is another nice example of the latter.
The Dutch army is by nature too ironic to sprinkle letters with quotations from the Bible. If you haven’t won a war in the last couple of centuries, you either have to be ironic or abandon your army completely.
Often, irony hides a lack of definite beliefs.
At least for the moment, I expect to come back from Guantánamo Bay with a better knowledge of the Bible. I won’t be allowed to speak to any of the prisoners, so a better understanding of the Koran is unfortunately enough not in the works.